The state of Michigan says that a $30 online registration fee charged by Birmingham's Seaholm High School is not allowable.

Enrolled students must pay $30 to complete online registration. The form collects basic information on the student and also describes other fees such as for the yearbook or hallway locker lock.

Birmingham School District officials claim the charge is not mandatory, but there is no way to opt out of the $30 fee while registering online. Marcia Wilkinson, director of community relations, said the fee is also charged to students who register in person.

“We checked this against information from the Department of Education to make sure we’re not asking for anything we can’t,” Wilkinson said.

But the state of Michigan said the fee isn’t legal.

“There is no indication on the registration webpage that identifies it as for 'Student Activities,' or what those activities might be,” Michigan Department of Education Spokesman Martin Ackley wrote in an email. “There are sections of the page that charge for things such as a yearbook or a student parking permit, which are allowable, but most of the page gathers basic information on the student. Charging students and families $30 for providing that information online is not allowable.”

The school district changed the name of the fee after it was contacted earlier this week by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Instead of “Seaholm student registration fee” it now calls the $30 fee a “student activity fee.”

“This fee is a student activities fee and was incorrectly labeled a registration fee in the online form. It is not a fee for registering for school,” Birmingham Superintendent David Larson wrote in an email. “This student activities fee is optional and covers field day expenses for students such as tee-shirts, costumes, banners and other student expenses. It also covers the cost of the student handbook and newspaper. … We are working on making this clearer. Parents have a Help section to go to with contact information if they have questions about a certain section of the form. Parents who do not wish to register online can contact the person listed and find out how to register 'offline.' No one is required to pay the activities fee and we regret any confusion over this.”

Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, said the fee is illegal.

“Calling it a fee and then saying it is optional is akin to charging a poll tax to vote, but then saying it can be waived if you know your constitutional rights and question us on it,” Wright said.

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See also:

The 32 Percent Teacher Pay Hikes at Birmingham Schools

Coverage of School District Claiming Cuts